Tsunami Debris Still Headed to US, Just No Island


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UPDATE: Nicholas Mallos, Ocean Conservancy’s marine debris specialist, said this with regard to clarifications from the NOAA about the reports of a "Texas-sized" island: "Following the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan a tremendous quantity of debris washed into the Pacific and began heading toward North America. While this debris was initially a solid mass, NOAA is right to indicate that it is not a flotilla and has dispersed significantly in the two years since.

Tsunami debris is still a very real threat for which we must remain vigilant. What doesn’t reach land will likely end up in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre with the myriad ocean trash already there due to our excessive use of disposable products. As a result, we’re communicating regularly with the Japanese government and environmental officials to ensure a swift response if or when debris makes landfall."

Main Story: In the spring of 2011, a massive tsunami/earthquake disaster struck Japan, killing roughly 15,000 and sweeping millions of artifacts and debris from Japanese cities into the Pacific Ocean.

Earlier this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was reportedly continuing their efforts to keep the North American coast and the island of Hawaii relatively free from debris, but artifacts like housing materials and styrofoam likely originate from the March 2011 tsunami.

Nancy Wallace, the director of the marine debris program at NOAA, told LiveScience last March that "This has been a very unprecedented event... We just don't know how much debris is still floating in the water."

The drama came to a climax this week when it was reported on multiple media outlets that an island of tsunami debris the size of Texas was on a crash-course with the West Coast.

NOAA officials with the Marine Debris Program tried to calm the calamitous media with a blog post. "Here’s the bottom line:" they write. "There is no solid mass of debris from Japan heading to the United States."

The team went on, saying "While there likely is some debris still floating at sea, the North Pacific is an enormous area, and it’s hard to tell exactly where the debris is or how much is left. A significant amount of debris has already arrived on U.S. and Canadian shores, and it will likely continue arriving in the same scattered way over the next several years."

Essentially, there are too many unknowns and variables to calculate before anyone can make conclusions about aspects of the debris like the surface area. ("Texas"-sized, really?) Lots of debris has already arrived, anyway: at least a dock, a Japanese skiff, and 30 other items have washed up on beaches in Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Alaska, and British Columbia. Some of those items had so much foreign marine life, they needed to be decontaminated lest we endure even more invasive species.

Here's some news footage from earlier this year of the cleanup efforts, which were still underway:

[Image via Wikimedia Commons]